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“That Was MY Bikini. That Drug Was Meant For ME!” COMICS! Sometimes You Can Go West But Life Is Not So Peaceful There!

John Kane

Yes! She’s back the lassie with the classy chassis; the gal whose gams are deadlier than a gat! Put your hands together for miss Honeeeey Weeeeest!…Honey West. You know…Honey West. Looking at me like I’m just making farting noises with my mouth isn’t helping. Okay, let me hit the streets, break some heads and see if I can get the real skinny on this crazy dame…
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Anyway this…

HONEY WEST #1 and #2
Illustrated by Cynthia Martin
Written by Trina Robbins
Coloured by Mark Simmons
Lettered by Marshall Dillon
Moonstone,$3.99 each (2010)
Honey West contents (c) Gloria Fickling

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Who is Honey West? It’s a fair question if you are under ninety; a question I’ll try to answer with all the authority of someone who has just spent too much of his free time looking a load of stuff up on the Internet. Because I’d sure never heard of her. I was just looking for some Trina Robbins comics.

I truly cannot even begin to imagine how niche this book is. Comics are already a niche item so a comic featuring a character whose last book appeared in 1971 is, I don’t know, is there an award for this kind of thing? If there is my money’s on Moonstone. And according to Moonstone books Ms West was the first female private eye in popular fiction. That carefully worded claim does sensibly still leave the door ajar for a female private eye to have preceded her in unpopular fiction. These are litigious times, daddio. Honey West was the creation of one G.G. Fickling but things get hinky quick because the purposefully ambiguously gendered one never existed. Well, except as a front for Gloria and Forrest “Skip” Fickling; a married couple of stiffs with an eye on the lucrative paperback market.

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The lady with a moniker formed from combining a popular term of endearment with a navigational direction first appeared in the book This Girl for Hire in 1957. A series of nine books with demurely restrained titles such as Honey In The Flesh (1959) and Dig A Dead Doll (1969) followed. The lady with a name like a gated community returned briefly twice more in 1971 and 1972 before falling backwards gracefully into the soft and fluffy bubble bath of obscurity. I have absolutely no idea about Honey West unless they are other people’s ideas but I’m guessing the peak of her popularity came in 1965-6 when she was played by the well made actress Anne “Forbidden Planet” Francis in 30 episodes of an ABC TV series. That’s twice as many episodes as Firefly managed, so I guess Moonstone can be forgiven for thinking there’s money in Honey West yet.

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Raised on Nancy Drew, I had never heard the term ‘feminist,’ but I knew there was a need for someone in books, movies and television who could be as tough as Mike Hammer or Batman, but in a skirt and high heels…

That’s Trina Robbins there on her doily adorned website talking about the book. It’s also a clear example of Trina Robbins missing a trick. I mean, what if you just put Batman in a skirt and high heels? I’d buy that and I know you’d buy that. We can smell our own.

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Anyway, Honey West is often described as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Mike Hammer. Unfortunately, as I have a somewhat vivid imagination, this comic failed to deliver on that promise. I was hoping for Honey to explode into violent acts of near bestial sadism; maybe shoot some dirty Communists right in the eyes and smack some foolish men around for their own damned good. But, no, she’s just an affable swell lookin’ babe mixed up with a bunch of real no-goodniks on the groovy razor’s edge where the nightclub and hippy drug scenes intersect. She’s less Mike Hammer and more Lew Archer in leopard skin stretch pants. That’s okay, I was always more of a Lew Archer man. Leopard skin stretch pants not so much. Not with these legs. Ba-Tisssh.

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By Cynthia Martin & Trina Robbins

It’s an entertaining pair of comics; a pair I wished I’d liked more given the pedigree. Oh, it’s all deftly done but a little flat. There are some good lines, a couple of laughs and the cartoonily fluid but precise art of Cynthia Martin keeps it all swinging along in a frothily frictionless manner. Actually, it took me a while to warm to Cynthia Martin’s art but once I realized there the scale of her cat wasn’t off (it was an Ocelot; it’s that kind of book) I relaxed and appreciated the clean surety of her line. Alas, a couple of scenes apart, her sketchiness is a little misplaced particularly in the exteriors, and so she fares badly in communicating a sense of time and place. Which is a proper shame as part of the appeal of a project like this is seeing a simulacrum of the past. However she really gets her groove on when it comes to her characters. There’s real ring-a-ding work in this area with a vibrant sense of life in her people each of whom is topped off with great work in the face department. The best face work of all being her beautiful channeling of Anne Francis which never once seems stilted.

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By Cynthia Martin & Trina Robbins

Cynthia Martin’s art is as frothy and camp as the script demands. There’s no pretensions to Great Literature here; just an attempt to entertain. And entertain it does but always in a bafflingly restrained fashion. Even though there’s murder by poisoned hot pants, some raunchy nightclub cat fighting action, a couple of Honey in the flesh scenes, a dead couple of adulterers in a piano (I told you; it’s that kind of book) and a drug fuelled meltdown it all feels a bit PG-13. To be honest this may be due to my comics palette having become degraded over decades of misuse. Sometimes I don’t need to uncork the venom and sometimes hyperbolic plaudits aren’t required, because sometimes a comic is just OKAY! Honey West is nice enough stuff and wouldn’t ruffle any feathers were it to become a light comedy-drama TV show. Which is probably the idea really. I doubt Moonstone are making comics featuring Honey West, Captain Action & Derek Flint teaming up out of altruism. Oh yes, there is such a thing. I told ya, my money’s on Moonstone!

But the safe money’s always on – COMICS!!!

It’s A Fair Cop, Guv Department:

The paperback covers were nicked from:http://pulpcovers.com/tag/honeywest/

2 Responses to “ “That Was MY Bikini. That Drug Was Meant For ME!” COMICS! Sometimes You Can Go West But Life Is Not So Peaceful There! ”

  1. Entertaining review from start to finish. I’d always been tempted by these comics, with my love for the retro and the “tough babe” (to quote an Elmore Leonard character), by which I just mean my enduring obsession with Modesty Blaise. But at a glance I figured out that the book looked much the worse when Robbins & Martin left, and seemed a bit flat, indeed, while they were there.

    (Comixology preview pages of issue 3 reveal a very passing familiarity with anatomical proportion or any sense of how human beings move through space, and I say that as a lifelong reader of superhero comics.)

    I wish your review had left me more eager to buy these issues, because I feel like I’d really enjoy what I imagine a “Honey West” comic could be, but it’s past time I got used to the disappointments of reality. Or just reread the recent Phantom Lady reprints …

    Comics! They break my heart in the funniest ways!

  2. @BrianMc:Hey, cheers! Nice analysis of issue 3, guess I’ll be skipping that one! Well, I’ve never read any Modesty Blaise, but I was expecting something a bit Emma Peel. Which is similar, I think? Sadly, Honey West didn’t have much character or, well, do anything really. On the plus side she wasn’t just an idiot attached to a chest. She was just really…normal. Normal people don’t have ocelots for pets, not in my experience. Maybe Robbins & Martin downplayed it all a bit too much. Mind you, I haven’t read the source books maybe they are a bit flat too. Honey West wasn’t bad or anything but, yeah, bit of a shame really.

    Phantom Lady, huh? Well, if stuff works out at least one person will be happy with one of my blabberthons quite soon! And I don’t mean Rascally Roy!

    Comics! They will mend your broken heart!

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